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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I have a 7 month old GSD. He is really turning out to be a great dog, despite some of the usual antics. He plays 2-ball for an hour a day and usually gets an evening walk for 20-30 minutes. We do training sessions, play with the flirt pole, and use kongs puzzle feeders or raw marrow bones as well as weekly obedience classes. He lays around, is quiet, crate trained, and pretty sweet.

He has began to lunge and bark at other dogs on our walks. He has always seemed uncomfortable with other dogs in our group obedience classes but this reaction is a somewhat of a new and sudden development. I received some advice from our trainer to go near a dog park (she specifically said not to go in) and try desensitizing him from afar, little by little. The idea was that he would see the dogs but not interact with them and be rewarded for not reacting. So I tried the densensitizing. Although we were outside the dog park and separated by gates, two aggressive dogs noticed my dog from way across the park and barreled toward us. My leashed pup reacted by growling and barking and lunging viciously. We were separated by the gate so there was no real threat but he was out of control and it wasn’t letting up so I pulled back on the leash to leave and he ended up biting my thigh really good. It didn’t leave puncture wounds but definitely broke the skin and I have multiple superficial teeth marks and have a very large painful bruise from the pressure. It seemed like he let go as quickly as he bit but I can’t quite shake the memory of my thigh being in his mouth. If I hadn’t been wearing jeans that day, I would have needed to go to the doctor. I would hate for my kids to ever experience that. I take responsibility for exposing him to this stressor. I have had a discussion with a behaviorist who believes he is just reactive and had redirected aggression but will be consulting in person with us. Here is my issue though. I have two young boys (4 and 7) and I sadly have trust issues with my dog now. Logically, I can recognize he wasn’t “reachable” to be trained at this point but I also feel like our bond is hurt.

We love him, but there is a static level of anxiety I feel when my kids are with him and when we exercise him. He can no longer participate in the group obedience classes since I consulted with our trainer. I would like to be able to keep him - but the unpredictable nature of a reactive dog with a history of redirected aggression as it grows older makes me concerned about my little kids. Has anyone had an experience with their puppy biting and causing injury from redirected aggression? Is there hope for our bond and for him to work through this? Any advice or wisdom?
 

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"I received some advice from our trainer to go near a dog park (she specifically said not to go in) and try desensitizing him from afar, little by little. The idea was that he would see the dogs but not interact with them and be rewarded for not reacting."

I can all but guarantee you missed the part about "from afar" as in the trainer meant from as far back as you needed to be to not elicit a reaction from your dog.

100 yards, 50 yards, 25 yards. Slowly closer, even over multiple days, weeks and keep rewarding for no reaction. Not just outside the gates where even normal dogs often react. It's a very specific routine meant to desensitize a dog in slow increments where you watch the dog's body language like a hawk and practice attention on you/toy/treat as needed.

At dog park, outside the gate is still interacting with them.
 

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agreed.
trainer gave good advice.
if dog reacts...you’re working him too close.
this is not only true for the first session, but all sessions.
the idea is to keep him below threshold.
what are you rewarding with? toy? food?
build up his engagement and the reward before even heading to the park.
there are a couple of approaches - sit and watch dogs, reward when he checks in (i find this is better for young puppies or adult dogs when the reactivity is based in fear)
or
train, play, etc with the other dogs just being a part of the background. he hears them, may get a quick glance or two, but he’s too busy engaging with you.
as far as your bond - it takes time, but i believe that can be repaired. you learn his triggers, you learn how to effectively work with him and the more time that passes that he’s appropriate, the bite will become a thing of the past.
i personally would not call him handler aggressive after one instance of redirecting.
until this issue is resolved and is no longer a concern... i’d have the kids keep a reasonable distance when on walks or outings where you may encounter other dogs.

i took a screen shot of a park near my old place where i regularly observed people working on dog reactivity issues - i’ve marked it to show an example of possible progression points.

380724C8-1B2A-47F1-B910-BFE297FE5466.jpeg
 

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Separately, work on leash pressure exercises. As always, without distractions first then with distractions. Teach your dog to give in into the slight pressure so in the above situation you would shorten the leash, say a cue, like “let’s go”, apply a slight pressure, not a tug, and you would just move away since the dog would know what you wanted and what to do.

Also, dont just sit your dog in front of the dog park and let him stare. Play with him, work on something easy in the presence of others, allow glimpses at the other dogs, keep it short. You simply overloaded your dog, I really don’t think this incident is an indication of aggression.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks to everyone who has replied. I definitely agree with everyone, I essentially threw him in the deep end.

I’m pretty new to this and humbled by everyone’s advice. He has been his usual sweet self and it could be in my head but I swear it even seemed like he felt bad. I appreciate everyone’s advice and even more so, I appreciate the reassurance everyone has given me. I’ll try again maybe at a different location much much much further away this time. 😅
 
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